VanHooser scores sci-fi award at Sundance Film Festival

Release Date: 1/30/2002. Expired: 2/28/2002

For David VanHooser, one ring of the telephone could skyrocket him right into the world of science fiction filmdom. This soft-spoken and gentle but very talented Multimedia Writer-Producer at The Renaissance Center just returned from a week in Park City, Utah, where he accepted his very first award in the Science Fiction Screenplay Writing Division at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

Honored for his feature-length sci-fi screenplay Robots Never Die, VanHooser now waits patiently each day for that one telephone call that could rock his world right into screenwriters’ heaven. It’s only been 20-plus years and a few rewrites since he first penned his award-winning screenplay, so now might just be the perfect time, he said.

Established by actor Robert Redford in 1981, the annual Sundance Film Festival is a major showcase for national and international independent film.

VanHooser said in conjunction with Sundance, there were several other festivals going on, including Slamdance, Moondance and Nodance. The sci-fi screenwriting competition was done through the Slamdance festival and was co-sponsored by the Sci-Fi Channel.

“They were taking submissions of screenplays with a science fiction theme,” he said. “Robots Never Die definitely has a science fiction theme.”

VanHooser’s prize included cash, which ultimately paid for his weeklong stay at the festival. But, he said, more important than the money was that his submission made it to the Sci Fi Channel, which now has the first right of refusal in producing the film.

“They have a time limit that they have to work under,” he said. “After that they’ll take it out and send it to other places. The recognition and the cash prize are wonderful, but the big prize is for people to look at it. That’s the hardest thing. That’s the reason for film festivals, to get people to look at your writing, to look at your script or whatever you’re doing. It’s exposure and that was the greatest prize of all.”

VanHooser tags Robots Never Die as a kind of retro science fiction in that it’s a story of a futuristic cop in New York City who is so in love with old black and white detective movies that he dresses in that style and adopts the tough-cop traits that the old-time actors portrayed.

“He has a robotic partner who is a true robot like C3PO, and he wants to be human. He’s starting to feel things that are unbecoming of a robot. The human cop wants to be like his old movie idols, like Humphrey Bogart. What happens is they stumble upon a murder case which turns out to be more than they bargain for,” he said. “In the process they kind of wade into the middle of a conspiracy that’s going on. They run into a multitude of characters, like the mysterious woman with a past like you see in all those old-time movies, and the cop falls in love with her. There are squads of killer robots who are sent out to eliminate witnesses, and even eliminate our heroes.”

VanHooser said that in the middle of all the technology, there’s a very warm, human, poignant story.

“During the course of the story the cop and the robot discover what they mean to each other, so in that respect there is a lot of humanity to it, and maybe that is what appealed to the people judging the competition,” he said.

Judges included professional writers, professional agents, professional producers and other professional readers, VanHooser said.

“It wasn’t somebody’s babysitter they were giving it to,” he said. “It feels good, something like this, where there is peer recognition and, above peer recognition, professional recognition. It’s a validation because you begin to doubt yourself if you really want to do something and dream about it and strive for it and never seem to achieve the success you want. Then this comes along and you begin to believe that maybe you do have some ability and something really is going to happen.”

VanHooser, 47, said he was, without a doubt, the oldest screenwriter in the competition.

“Some of these people were half my age,” he said. “Some of them may have been in their 30s but most of them were in their 20s. So when I told them that I wrote this script at or around the time they were born I think it shocked most of them.”

VanHooser said he didn’t have the opportunity to meet Redford. He said he was surprised to see how immense the festival was.

“I had no idea that this setting was that big,” he said. “I should have, but never having been to one of this stature before... there were thousands of people there. Lots of foreign languages being spoken. People were shopping their films, watching films, just like me.”

Steve Hall, director of Multimedia at The Renaissance Center, said VanHooser is deserving of the honor.

“This is quite an honor, and certainly a positive reflection on The Renaissance Center,” Hall said. “He is very deserving. The skills David learned will help us do even better work for our clients while attracting new business.”

State Sen. Doug Jackson, executive director at The Renaissance Center, said he is “delighted” that VanHooser’s work was recognized.

“David is so talented and I’m delighted his work was honored with this prize,” Jackson said. “There are so many talented and creative people at The Renaissance Center that it really doesn’t come as too much of a surprise when they are singled out for their work, even on a national level. It’s always a pleasure to see them rewarded for their efforts. We look forward to seeing more of David’s work out on the playing field with that of his peers.”

VanHooser said he is still as excited now as he was when he got the telephone call that his screenplay had taken second place.

“I’m hoping something will happen with it with the Sci Fi Channel. Even if not, I heard enough from the other finalists that once it gets out in the open there’s a real good chance that something will happen,” he said. “I will be hoping for that. I will be working for that and in the meantime I’ll continue to work on other things in the evenings and on the weekends. I have other screenplays and other ideas I want to pursue. This is something I just love doing, and I always do it with the hope that something like this will happen.”

The Sundance Film Festival highlights American and international independent cinema. This year there were more than 2,000 submissions in the sci-fi competition.

The Sundance Institute also maintains The Sundance Collection at the University of California at Los Angeles, a unique archive of independent film.

VanHooser also recently received a nomination in the 16th annual Mid-south Regional Emmy Awards for Saved, a short film he wrote, directed and produced at The Renaissance Center. Winners will be announced Feb. 2.